Tag Archives: Metro Transit

Omaha Creative Institute

September 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Omaha Creative Institute (OCI) was founded in 2008, staff converted a used truck and horse trailer into a mobile art vehicle as a way to bring creativity to neighborhood festivals, parades, and other community events. Whether at Dundee Days or South Omaha’s Cinco de Mayo parade, OCI led workshops and provided sidewalk chalk to kids with the goal of making it possible for people from all walks of life to experience creativity firsthand.

Fast forward five years, and the organization moved far beyond the horse trailer. During summer 2013, OCI installed 10 pianos designed by local artists around town and invited people to play, listen to, or just view the musical instruments as interactive pieces of art. It also scheduled special events, including a performance by Ballet Nebraska and a sing-along organized by Joslyn Art Museum to bring added art experiences to the public. The project was such a success that Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards recognized OCI with its Best Public Art award for that year.

In March we caught up with Susan Thomas, who was in the last weeks of her tenure as executive director, and Emily Moody, just about to undertake hers, to gather insights into an organization that became an integral part of enriching communities throughout Omaha.

Thomas explains why there is a need for the institute, even in a city that already offers a fairly diverse selection of visual and performing arts. “There was a perceived gap in having art available to a broader community.

“Omaha Creative Institute was founded to make art more open and accessible to everyone,” she continues. “We are more about building an audience for the arts and getting people who don’t typically participate in the arts to support them. We connect with all kinds of people.”

One of the ways OCI links with the community is by collaborating with other organizations, especially those not typically associated with the arts. In 2012 it worked with Metro Transit for “Conversations on a Bus,” in which two photographers rode buses throughout the metro area, interviewing and photographing riders. It documented encounters and brought art directly to a community usually not involved with the city’s creative offerings. “It introduced art to a whole new population,” says Thomas.

Last year OCI introduced artists to a community with which they’re often not familiar: the business one. Artist INC Live Omaha provided professional development to 22 artists as a way to empower them to take control of their careers and earn a living from their art. “Even though this seems like a different mission, the program really comes full circle for Omaha Creative Institute,” observes Moody. “It builds a public arts audience by supporting the artists who create.”

As OCI moves forward, both women are excited with how the organization will continue bringing arts programming directly to the public. “We make wonderful connections in the community,” Thomas philosophized. “I think that’s one of our great strengths.”

Moody agrees. “Everyone can relate to the arts in some way. It’s so important. I’m very fortunate to play a part in that.”



June 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was printed in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Many job seekers from Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods currently think La Vista might as well be Lincoln—or Egypt. That may not be the case much longer. Linda Dugan, vice president of Global Operations at PayPal, has spearheaded a plan to connect PayPal’s suburban office complex with new hires from North Omaha.

A cohort of 28 new customer service employees began using a pilot transportation program to travel to and from PayPal on May 4.

Dugan explains the program’s logic: “Our idea is that if transportation is a barrier, and we can provide a service from the North Omaha community out to our La Vista office and provide return transportation, then we’re going to help enable them to have a really rewarding career with PayPal; and at the same time bring talented and highly engaged team members into our organization.”

Dugan has pondered transportation accessibility for some time. During board meetings for the Sarpy County Economic Development Council, she listened to other La Vista area businesses lament how some potential hires are logistically incapable of considering job opportunities in Omaha’s outer suburbs.

“Not everyone has a car, not everyone can drive, but we do have the expectation of attendance,” Dugan says. “If their car might not make it 40 miles back and forth every day, they self-select themselves out of consideration. Hopefully by solving this (problem of accessibility), we will get some teammates who want to commit to us because we are willing to commit to them.”

Many people want to commit to PayPal because of their extensive benefits.

“I would put our benefits up against anyone in the community and believe that ours would still exceed,” she says, speaking from a conference room in the first of PayPal’s two adjacent offices, which house 2,500 employees (working in customer service, technical support, fraud prevention, corporate communications, and other capacities).

The company’s comprehensive benefits package begins on new employees’ first day and covers everything from family to pets. PayPal also offers tuition reimbursement, and Bellevue University teaches accelerated degree courses in undergraduate and graduate levels after regular business hours at the La Vista office.

No matter how good PayPal’s employment benefits might be, unreliable transportation could force job candidates out of the talent pool.

“I am so hopeful that our pilot can prove what I think it can, that by removing the barrier of transportation we can get really great talent that wants the career opportunities,” says Dugan.

The north Omaha transportation program resulted from a brainstorming session with her boss, John McCabe. “We were talking about opportunities and talent, and I proposed an idea of addressing possible barriers in the community for transportation,” Dugan says.

He liked the idea. McCabe agreed to fund a nine-month pilot program. Dugan’s next phone call was to David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. She explained how she hoped to incentivize talent acquisition from north Omaha with PayPal-funded complementary transportation.

“He was amazing!” Dugan says of Brown. More community outreach followed. Brown’s team helped PayPal network with agencies, keeping a pulse on the employment needs of Omaha’s inner-city community.

Representatives from Goodwill and the Urban League joined the discussion, followed two months later by Metro Transit, Omaha’s public transportation provider. The coalition eventually developed a blueprint for a transportation program that allows PayPal to leverage the Urban League and Goodwill’s talent pool while coordinating routes with Omaha’s existing busing infrastructure.

They organized two job fairs during March in north Omaha. Soon after, the company began extending job offers. PayPal’s buses would depart from the North Omaha Transit Center (near 30th and Ames), which is already connected to other bus lines throughout Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods.

“Our hope is that this cohort demonstrates the same level of engagement that we have received from our talent from across the community, and that will help us see if we are on the right track,” says Dugan. “We are really hopeful that it will make a difference, that it will be great for our customers and great for the community.”

Dugan has deep family roots in the north Omaha community. Her grandmother was a member of Omaha North High School’s first graduating class. Dugan, her brother, and her parents also graduated from the school.

Now she’s able to give back to the Omaha neighborhood that nurtured her.

“It’s all about community,” she says. “Go Vikings!”